The Benefits of a Course Blog

Does it matter if students leave courses with a positive attitude toward the content area? Maybe successful acquisition of content is all that really matters. Maybe teachers don’t need to be concerned if students “liked” the content. As physics professors Duda and Garrett (reference below) point out, this is about more than whether or not students “liked” physics.

The positive attitudes toward the discipline that teachers need to cultivate “encompass an appreciation of how physicists think and operate; the value of physics as it applies to other fields, such as engineering, biology, and medicine; and the applicability of physics to everyday life.” (p. 1054)

Regrettably, students don’t always leave introductory science courses with positive attitudes. In fact, Duda and Garrett cite a number of studies showing that students actually leave physics courses with more negative attitudes than they brought with them to the course. That should be of concern for all sorts of reasons, but most compelling, as Duda and Garrett note, “if we care about learning, we need to pay attention to students’ attitudes.” (p. 1055)

Duda and Garrett decided to try to impact student attitudes in an introductory physics course by incorporating a blog into the course. The blog was designed as an extra-credit assignment (although later in the research it became a required part of the course). The instructor posted several blog entries per week and students received two points for reading and posting a thoughtful response. (“Very cool” was not considered a thoughtful response.) If students blogged regularly they could raise their overall grade in the course by 2.5 percent. The content of the blog mirrored content covered in class, but it addressed real-world problems and issues. So when electrostatics was being covered, there was a blog entry about the physics of lightning. In fact, the blog linked to a YouTube video of a car being struck by lightning.

To test the impact of the blog experience on attitudes toward physics, the researchers used an instrument developed by others and used in previous research. They compared pre- and post-class attitudes of students in the courses with the blog to those of students in control sections with no blog. “We found that students who did not participate in the blog generally exhibited a deterioration in attitudes towards physics as seen previously. Students who read, commented, and were involved with the blog maintained their initially positive attitudes towards physics.” (p. 1054) Students in the sections where the blog was used were surveyed about the blog specifically, and their reactions were “overwhelmingly positive,” even in sections where the blog became a required assignment.

In addition to the impact on attitudes, the researchers note that having to read the blog and post comments forced the students to do more reading and to learn about physics topics that were not covered in class. They also repeatedly had students who never participated in class interacting regularly on the blog.

Reference: Duda, G. and Garrett, K. (2008). Blogging in the physics classroom: A research-based approach to shaping students’ attitudes toward physics. American Journal of Physics, 76 (11), 1054-1065.

Excerpted from A Blog, a Physics Course, and a Change in Student Attitudes, The Teaching Professor, volume 23, number 3, page 7.